ALBANY, N.Y. -- Records for UConn have almost become routine, but the Huskies hit some big milestones on Monday night. With a 94-65 win over defending NCAA champion South Carolina, UConn earned its 11th consecutive Final Four appearance, breaking the NCAA Division I record it shared with the UCLA men's basketball team, and its 19th overall trip to the national semifinals, taking sole possession of the women's NCAA record that the Huskies had previously shared with Tennessee.
This was the first meeting in the NCAA tournament between UConn and South Carolina, but the result was the same. The Huskies improved to 7-0 all time against the Gamecocks, including five wins in the past four seasons.
Monday's game capped the college career of South Carolina senior A'ja Wilson, a three-time All-American and the espnW player of the year. Wilson left the game with 3:15 to play, finishing with 27 points and eight rebounds and shooting 11-of-18 from the field. Wilson is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft on April 12.
All five UConn starters hit double figures in scoring by early in the third quarter. Crystal Dangerfield, who scored just six points in a Sweet 16 win over Duke on Saturday, exploded for 21 points, including 19 in the decisive first half. Gabby Williams led the way with 23 points on 11 of 16 shooting. UConn shot 68 percent in the first half and led 54-33 at the break.
Player of the game: When the five UConn starters gathered for their media session during Sunday's off day, Dangerfield was the only one who was not asked a question. A day later, the sophomore point guard had the first half of her life. She was nearly perfect in the opening 20 minutes, with 19 points, four assists and no turnovers -- and UConn had a lead it was not going to give up.
Dangerfield was 5-for-5 from 3-point range and 6-for-7 from the field in the first half. After nailing her fourth 3-pointer, she ran back on defense and, seemingly in disbelief at the night she was having, gave a shrug reminiscent of Michael Jordan's famous shrug after his blistering shooting in the first half for the Chicago Bulls against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals.
Dangerfield either scored or assisted on 29 of UConn's 54 first-half points.
The second half became more of a contest to see if one of her teammates could catch her for scoring honors. Eventually, Williams did, as Dangerfield became more of a distributor and shot only four times in the second half. Dangerfield also finished the game with six assists.
How it was won: When defense carried UConn in Saturday's win over Duke, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma noted that his team missed a number of shots it usually makes. The Huskies made them Monday. UConn's offense was nearly flawless in the first half. The Huskies made five of their first seven shots, with each starter getting a basket. By the time Dangerfield made her second 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer, the lead was 30-12.
South Carolina's offense came alive in the second quarter -- the Gamecocks made 9 of 15 shots from the field in the period -- but UConn was still better, making 10-of-14 from the field. The Huskies shot 68 percent in the first half. Williams was the only UConn player who missed more than one shot. It was the kind of display that would measure up to any other classic UConn team.
Stat of the game: UConn was a blistering 11-of-13 on shots outside the paint in the first half. South Carolina was 1-of-7. Post players Wilson and Alexis Jennings scored all 12 of the Gamecocks' first-quarter points. South Carolina's guards were never a factor, on offense or defense. All of Dangerfield's seven first-half shots were uncontested. By contrast, South Carolina as a team only had six uncontested attempts.
What's next: The Huskies are two wins away from a 12th national championship and a seventh unbeaten season. They will meet the Spokane Regional winner (Notre Dame or Oregon) in the national semifinals on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
UConn ended Oregon's Cinderella run last year in the Elite Eight and is all too familiar with Notre Dame. The Huskies beat the Irish 80-71 in Hartford in early December after being down 11 early in the fourth quarter. That made it seven in a row for UConn in its long-standing rivalry with Notre Dame.